Baker Guggenheim Rotunda Pink Photo by Robert Altman

ARRI SkyPanel 360-C illuminates the iconic atrium of New York’s Guggenheim Museum

Acclaimed lighting designer Brandon Stirling Baker shares his experience of lighting a true monument of modernism—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. For this project, he chose 2 ARRI SkyPanel 360-C LED soft lights to create “a really beautiful, otherworldly experience.”

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is one of the most famous and most recognizable art museums in the world. “The Guggenheim,” as it is often called, houses a stunning collection of modern art and is, its own right, an architectural masterpiece that embodies many geometric forms. Since 1984, Works & Process at the Guggenheim has presented new works and site-specific rotunda projects in a unique setting unlike any other.

During the holiday season every year, visitors can attend a rotunda concert as part of the Works & Process series at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. This past December, live musicians, world class dancers, and Grammy-nominated vocalists were perfectly illuminated by the lighting designer Brandon Stirling Baker.

Brandon Stirling Baker is an award-winning lighting designer for ballet, opera, and theater. His work can be seen in the repertories of the New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Hong Kong Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Semperoper Dresden, Staatsballett Berlin, Pennsylvania Ballet, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In 2018, Baker was appointed lighting director of the Boston Ballet.

For the lighting of the Guggenheim Works & Process series concert, Baker employed the ARRI SkyPanel S360. ARRI had the chance to talk with Baker about his experiences with this project and his choice of tools.


Please explain in short the background of the Guggenheim Rotunda Project. What was the intention behind it?  

I have had the great pleasure of working closely with Works & Process at the Guggenheim for the past 10 years. This is an incredible organization that brings together like minded artists from a wide range of artistic disciplines to create new and exciting work specifically for the Guggenheim Museum’s Peter B. Lewis Theater and the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright Rotunda. Performances in the rotunda range from site specific dance performances to diverse opera engagements. 

Tell us about the project, environment, and the general lighting requirements?

For this rotunda concert series I had to design a flexible light plot that could be hung, focused, and cued in one hour. This was a live concert with dancers, musicians, and vocalists using the entire 360º rotunda, so there Is a lot of performance space to cover. There was no time for a dress or tech rehearsal for this project, so all of my design ideas had to be roughly pre-programmed in the console prior to our load in. The entire show was essentially designed “live” in front of the audience while the performance was taking place. This allowed me to create an extremely organic and impulsive experience as a designer. The entire experience felt like painting with light in an active art gallery. Since the Guggenheim Museum is open to the public during the day, the load in and focus could not begin until the museum was officially closed to the public. 

Did the architecture of the building present special challenges in terms of lighting? 

Lighting the iconic Guggenheim Rotunda is not only a dream come true for me as a designer but also an enormous responsibility. For this project, I like to think that the major collaboration was between myself and the incredible Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Having the opportunity to transform the way we view this space was a thrilling experience.

When lighting a performance in the rotunda, the architecture, power requirements, exhibit rules, and paintings are important details to consider. What made this a unique challenge is that the lighting must avoid illuminating the artwork in the exhibit. For this reason, all of the lighting was bounced directly off the ceiling to indirectly light the white walls, white floor, and ramps that surround the entire rotunda. It created a really beautiful otherworldly experience that directly matched the music and choreography.

Why did you decide to use the SkyPanel 360-C?

For this project It was important to find a fixture that was user friendly, color efficient, extremely bright, and easy to setup in a short amount of time. What I love so much about the SkyPanel series is that these fixtures produce a gorgeous and beautiful quality of light that is truly larger than life. When working in a space like the Guggenheim Museum, the lighting must match this scale and I knew immediately that the only fixture I could trust for this important application was the SkyPanel 360. I am also a huge fan of the extremely soft edge of this fixture.

What features of the SkyPanel were you able to use?

I used mode 9, the RGBW color mode, for its amazing color.

Did anything surprise you in working with the SkyPanel? 

The intensity of the SkyPanel 360 is truly incredible. During the lighting focus, I discovered that I could light the entire museum with one single S-360. I ended up using two fixtures to illuminate more of the space but it was impressive to see the power of one single fixture.

Have you ever used SkyPanels or even a S360-C before? 

The ARRI SkyPanel has been my favorite light fixture to use in my work for ballet, opera, and theatre. I have used the SkyPanel S60, S30, and S360 for many site specific projects including new works for Opera Philadelphia, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, William Forsythe at Boston Ballet, and Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library Gala.

Was there anything you couldn’t have done without the SkyPanels? 

The SkyPanel photometrics, coverage, color quality, and intensity are completely unmatched in any other fixture on the market today. The ability to have one fixture that can essentially do it all for large spaces is really a dream come true for my work as a designer. 

What inspires you to work with lights?

In all of my work as a designer working primarily in ballet, I strive to create a world of light that is always specific to the dance. I like to think that my work is never only about the light, but instead creates a unique world for a performance to live in. My favorite moment to craft as a designer is the opening image and the final image of a dance. I believe that it is our responsibility as artists to inform the style of a work and create gestures that are strong, clear, simple but maintain a unique point of view.


Other examples of Brandon Stirling Baker’s work can be found at: New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Semperoper Dresden, Hong Kong Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, and the Dutch National Ballet among many others. For more information, please visit: www.stirlingbaker.com

The SkyPanels for this project were provided by 4WALL New Jersey.

Opening Image: ARRI SkyPanel 360-C LED soft light under the rotunda at New York’s Gugenheim Museum. Photo: ©️ Robert Altman